Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Giving Air Canada a second chance

In all fairness to Air Canada, I felt that I should post the messages I've received from/sent to Air Canada since my initial "why Air Canada sucks!" post.

I received the first reply to my follow-up post about 15 days after I sent it. And this time, it was from an actual person and not a standard/cookie-cutter response:

Response (D--) - 01/29/2009 09:40 AM
Dear Ms. --:

Thank you for your follow up email.

I am sorry it has taken so long to respond. I needed to contact Vancouver for an explanation and it took a little longer than I expected.

An aircraft swap was needed and the aircraft that replaced the original one had less seating capacity. That is why a few people were bumped from the flight.

As a gesture of goodwill, we are pleased to provide you with a future travel credit in the amount of $100.00 CAD. This transferable credit may be used toward the purchase of an Air Canada ticket for future travel on Air Canada and/or Air Canada Jazz and is valid until January 29, 2010, one year from today. This means that it must be applied to a new ticket purchased within that time frame, however, travel does not have to commence within the year. Your credit number is: -----.

If booking through our Call Centre, simply provide the number shown above to the agent at the time of booking.

If booking on our web site or through a travel agent, please wait until travel has been completed, however, no longer than 90 days, and then email the new ticket number along with the travel credit number shown above, to They will refund the value of the credit back to the credit card used to purchase the new ticket. If you wish to transfer the credit to another person, please include a note in your correspondence authorizing the transfer.

You may also fax or mail the electronic travel credit number and new ticket number to our Refunds Department.

Fax: (204) 941-2789.

Air Canada Refund Services
P.O. Box 6475
Winnipeg, MB R3C 3V2

We apologize for this inconvenience to your travel plans. Thank you for allowing us this opportunity to review your concerns.


Customer Relations

I still wasn't particularly satisfied with that, so I sent yet another follow up response:

Customer - 01/30/2009 03:07 AM
Thank you for your response. I feel a little bit better at least knowing what happened. However, this does raise other questions for me, such as why was the airplane switch necessary? And why weren't passengers informed about this decision at the time?

Moreover, how is it decided as to which passengers get bumped off the flight in such circumstances? And what is airline policy regarding compensation in such situations (disregarding the complications arising from the weather)?

And most importantly, what is being done to improve the customer service provided in such times of difficulty? (Even with the recent explanation, I still think it's completely unacceptable that no one bothered to explain what was going on to us at the time.)

I mean, I understand a little better what happened now, but I think a flight credit as a "goodwill gesture" is pretty pathetic considering that the experience of being put into standby hell in Vancouver was traumatizing enough for me to question whether I would ever fly Air Canada again, since apparently it's an airline that simply bumps people off flights without any apologies, explanations or meaningful compensation. (It doesn't really count when *I* have to keep emailing after the fact for a satisfactory explanation.)

Honestly, up to now I've liked Air Canada. I thought that Tokyo-Toronto flights were both convenient and reasonably priced. But after all this, I'm seriously considering not using Air Canada simply on principle. I'd rather fly with an airline that takes better care of and shows more respect to its customers, even if it means spending more money or dealing with the inconvenience of stopping in the US.

Customer service's response was very fast this time:

Response (D--) - 01/30/2009 11:47 AM
Dear Ms. --:

I certainly do understand your present feelings. I would probably feel the same way you do. Normally, when an aircraft swap is required, we are able to get our passengers to their destinations within the same day. I know it was a very trying time and emotions were high with it being Christmas and everyone wanting to be home with family.

When we need to choose who to bump off a flight, we usually choose passengers who are only going to that destination and do not have a connection onward.

I would like you to know that Air Canada has learnt from these events and is reviewing their methods and procedures in irregular operations in order to help our agents help our passengers. Customer Relations has a good idea of what needs to be done and we will be included in these revised procedures. I am extremely hopeful that our future irregular operations will be less chaotic and more productive.

I am not attempting to minimize the situation but this was a very unusual holiday season for our airline also. With so many flights being cancelled and delayed our employees probably did not know what to do half the time. The flights were already full and reprotecting passengers became almost impossible. Often, if an agent found a new routing to get someone home, then that flight was later cancelled or delayed also. Everyone was really overwhelmed.

When we experience one major storm within our network, it can take a couple of days to recuperate from the flight cancellation and delays. Rescheduling our crews and aircraft to their new destinations takes a lot of planning when they are stuck in a different city than planned. This winter's storms just came at us one after another after another.

Our goodwill offer of 25% was to show our passengers that we do care. The additional $100.00 voucher was also to let you know that we do value your support. I am only asking you to realize that these were some unusual circumstances and to give us another chance to provide you with the quality service you have experience with us in the past.

We are hoping to welcome you on board a future flight to Tokyo.


Customer Relations

Well, that response made me feel like I was being a bit too churlish, but I still wasn't completely ready to drop the issue, and I still had one more pressing question:

Customer - 01/31/2009 09:46 AM
Thank you for your fast response. I'm sorry to be so doggedly persistent on the issue, but I feel it's reasonable for me to want to know WHY was there an aircraft swap "needed"?

The latest response:

Response (D--) - 02/04/2009 04:25 PM
Dear Ms. --:

I have been trying to see if I could have more information on this issue. Unfortunately, I have not been getting anywhere. I will take an educated guess from what I can see, however, do not hold me to it.

It looks like they swapped the planes in order to operate an aircraft with more capacity on a flight to Hong Kong. I believe this was to accommodate all the delayed passengers in the last couple of days due to the bad weather. Air Canada will always give a priority to an international flight.

It is easier to protect passengers traveling on a domestic flight than on an international flight especially when the flight is going to Asia.

If I hear anymore on this issue I definitely will email you with this information.


Customer Relations

Well, as a passenger coming into Vancouver on an international flight myself, I could accept and understand that they would prioritize getting the international flight backlogs cleared before the domestic ones. I still think the way Air Canada handled their customer relations during the whole "crisis" was completely sucky, but I'm no longer angry at what happened (just at how it was handled). I'm still going to try to fly with other Star Alliance member airlines (so I can still collect Aeroplan miles), but if Air Canada's the most logical option (as it is for the Tokyo-Toronto flight), I'm going to give them another chance.

My final email:

Even if you ultimately can't find out the specifics, I appreciate the educated guess. Thank you very much.

So this August I'll be using the 25% discount and $100 travel credit to come back for WAY camp. If Air Canada screws up again, I'm not going to be so forgiving, but for now, I'm willing to give them a second chance.